Sunday, May 25, 2008
Since returning from Nicaragua in late January, I have continued to work part-time with ANF, assisting them to make a transition and continue the momentum that this project has begun. ANF recently hired Nicolas Arguello as the Coordinator of Sustainable Development Projects. He is stationed in the Managua office, and has already done some amazing work! I have been very impressed that they happened to hire someone who could very naturally step in, and take on a leadership role in this developing area for ANF. Nicolas is from Nicaragua, went to college in the United States, and now is returning to help his people through ANF. He is bi-lingual, and has already strengthened the relationship we began with the United Nations Development Program by identifying 9 villages destined to become Millennium Communites, and setting forth a plan of work with Project Director Neyda Pierera for the UN, ANF, and local government to achieve their goals by the year 2015.
In El Menco
El Menco's community continues to grow stronger. Their Committee for the Sustainable Development of El Menco meets every Friday, and sometimes ANF Staff attend and support these meetings. ANF has identified funding for houses for the sections of Santa Barbara, El Ceritto, and El Islote. They are currently pricing the cost for transporting supplies to El Islote by boat.
I have spoken to Warren, the Director of the Committee (who is only 19!) several times on the phone, and he remains in great spirits and is very excited about the changes!
Nicolas Arguello writes:
I’ve got some good news for you. Juan de Dios has been travelling a lot to El Menco and he’s been getting things done. A full-time doctor has been assigned to the clinic at El Menco, along with 2 full-time assistants (nurses?). They’re staying in the casa modelo, which is where you stayed, I believe. Roberto Jereze, Gerente de Programas, is going to visit El Menco next week to include it as a recipient for medicines. And the community members won’t have to pay for the transportation to pick up the medicines and medicinal equipment; the alcaldía agreed to pay for transportation costs.Juan de Dios is also trying to send them school supplies, on a continuous basis.
Thanks for all of your support – the fruit of your work in El Menco is very clear.
On Bringing it Home
Remember those folks from Rotary International whom I visited with in El Menco? With their assistance, I've managed to get our local Rotary Chapter involved here in Ashland. I've presented to them twice, and two weeks ago they approved some funding to assist 2 members and our Mayor, Ed Monroe to travel to Nicaragua and El Menco in December with the Rotarians that I met on their annual trip. We are now working on the goal of joining the Partners of the Americas and creating a partner city relationship between Ashland and El Menco. A member of the Appleton, WI and Chinandega partnership is visiting Ashland this Tuesday to present to the Rotary Club and to our City Council on what it means to be a partner city, and how it's been successful for them. In the near future, we're hoping for the endorsement of our council, and the formal proposal for the partner city to be accepted through the Wisconsin-Nicaragua Partners program. From that point, many projects and programs could take place. It is really up to the support of the community of Ashland.
Monday, January 21, 2008
In the last few days, the Millennium Village Project has transformed into action, and I can only hope that the wonderful momentum it has at the moment continues. Wednesday I spent the better part of the day in
El Menco recently identified it’s priorities for development. The list is as follows:
- Wells for the whole community
- New houses for the whole community
- A new school and a teacher for El Islote
- A doctor
- A better health center
- Employment for women
Neyda and I both identified organizations both governmental and non-governmental that could assist with each of these priorities. Next month she is going to call all of these people together including the newly formed Committee for the Sustainable Development of El Menco, to formulate a 1 year plan, which is very exciting.
We went through a report that I had written in December, point for point, and had some great discussions for action.
Today, perhaps one of the moments I feel very glad to be a part of, the Committee presented their process to Semia Tapia and Maribel Castillo from the United Nations, as well as the Mayor, and the potential next Mayor of this Municipality, and two other staff members. I think the leaders were shocked that everyone actually came, and I was very impressed with their presentation. While they were nervous, they explained many of the activities that we learned through together quite well. Now the biggest part is discovering what kind of support they might be able to give to the project.
Kai recently celebrated his 5th birthday in El Menco. Although his birthday was on the 8th, we celebrated on the 18th, to coordinate with his buddy's birthday- Carlos. We had a good time- everyone got pirate tatoos and Kai successfully knocked tons of candy and school supplies out of Batman here!
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
This morning I wandered over to Dona Carmen’s for a breakfast of rice, beans, eggs, and bread. On the agenda for lunch: crispy lizard. I figured it was time to add another entry and update you all on things here in
First of all, the lizards are about the size of huge iguana’s and live in holes in trees. I’m not sure exactly what they are, but they’re basically like a grey iguana, without the really long tails. She says she boils down the whole lizard and then mixes the meat with corn. I opted out of crispy lizard corn surprise.
Kai and I have been back in El Menco for a little over a week. We had a great trip to
We arrived back in El Menco on the 3rd of January, to hear news that a 7 year old boy had been killed in an accident the day before. He had been sitting on a wooden cart with his father that was loaded with watermelon, pulled by two huge cattle. A watermelon fell off and the boy went to catch it, and fell under the wheel, which crushed his skull. People went running to the health center, which was empty- the nurses were out on vacation, but the boy had died by the time they got there. That same day they had a service, dug a hole in the cemetery, and buried him. When I arrived, the mood was somber, and some of the kids were sad, but life continued as usual, and more carts rolled through the streets either driven by little kids, or with kids riding.
Several days after arriving in El Menco, we headed into
I did get approval for funding for a Youth Encuentro to be held here next Saturday, and now we are working out some of the details. Next week in general will be busy, as we’ll celebrate Kai’s birthday on the 17th, the United Nations are coming on the 18th, (that’s the plan anyway), and the Encuentro is the 19th. On the 20th, Sunday, we will head back to
Another big event for the project is that the group of leaders here formed an official organization, named the Committee for Sustainable Development for El Menco. The elected a president, vice-president, secretary and treasurer. It was very important for them that they have representation from each of four sectors, which they accomplished through nominations, and a democratic vote. I am very hopeful for this group, and at the same time very fearful. This is the first time in their known history that they’ve organized into a group with representation from all sectors, and I worry that without support, they won’t have anything that they want to talk about at meetings, and the group may dissolve. The next time they may attempt to organize, it may be very difficult.
This is perhaps the most crucial part of the fellowship- ensuring that your work is sustained, and any projects are followed up on. I am hoping to see some action on behalf of the ANF for this, as I meet with Neyda again this week.
I am sorry to say that my digital camera is broken, perhaps for good, so you will all have to suffice with words. We will continue to write long after we are back with any updates on the project.
Elizabeth and Kai
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
Monday, December 24, 2007
As Christmas is only 5 days away, El Menco remains unchanged, except for a set of lights, and slightly more traffic in the streets. Christmas is a large holiday here in Nicaragua, but one that one must afford to celebrate. I have seen no decorated trees, no presents, only the houses are more full with visiting family members. More people attend church, but unless you lived here and noticed these subtlties, you wouldn’t know Christmas was here. I sit at my computer and watch a dog scarf down a few pieces of rice left from my meal while Kai plays on the porch with 5 brothers. A cow moo’s to its companions in the street, and the roosters wander in search of hens, who in turn search for bugs to eat. El Menco is still El Menco.
Other parts of Nicaragua are in full swing. The capitol has a 40 ft tree decorated in the middle of a rotunda, complete with a fence and armed guards. The main shopping mall, which is just like US malls, is complete with a tree of the same size, spanning two stories, with Santa dropping from a hot air balloon (also complete with a fence and armed guards). I visited briefly Sunday with Kai when we dropped my boyfriend Jason off at the airport after a brief but wonderful 5 day visit. Kai was shocked to see the Christmas tree and all of the presents. I was shocked to see high prices- more than what I’d pay in the US, in a toy store. The next day, Monday, I had a meeting with the Mayor of Buenos Aires, the department that contains El Menco. My co-workers picked me up in Managua, and I make a brief stop in the Mall to dash in to buy a carefully selected toy for Kai while he waited in the car. Even a Christmas present is something I have to consider. I was very fortunate to find an educational toy store with imported European products, which was both a curse and a blessing. A blessing because it had some well made educational toys that Kai really enjoyed. A curse because not only would these toys set him apart from all of the kids in El Menco, but also because we’d have to be very careful with it, as other kids don’t treat toys well here. My other options however often display plastic automatic weapons, guns, monster trucks, etc., all made in China. Kai has gotten one or two of these before (not the guns- you all know me better than that), all which have broken within a week of getting them. I settled on a cloth doll and a separate outfit to dress her in. Kai has recently become obsessed with bodies, and loves to dress and undress dolls. When asked what his choice would be, he chose a girl doll over a boy (Amanda over Brian that is). So there you all have it, you know what Kai is getting for Christmas, and the simple dilemma over the choice. Just one example of many daily dilemmas involving the best decision for Kai in the situation.
My meeting with the Mayor, a woman by the name of Zela Diaz Mora, went very well. The Millennium Village Project was a new idea for her, but she thought it wonderful, and was very supportive. It was clear that she has a great working relationship with Juan de Dios, my co-worker and Assistant Project Coordinator for ANF. She went so far as to call me an angel for El Menco, for working here and spending so much time in the community, which then allowed me to confirm my fear of providing false hope for the people. My simple association with ANF, the organization that so quickly transformed the lives of so many, has many hoping for new houses, and wells to pull water from, ending their endless treks to the lake with 5 gallon buckets. I feel my time here dwindling, as my work intensifies. I have always offered total transparency to the people I’m working with, and I’m wondering if it’s wrong to have done so. For each time I report meetings with other organizations, such as the United Nations, it inspires more hope in their eyes that their reality may change. While in truth, the real change will happen after I am gone, and only if the ANF and others continue the project. I have no reason to believe that they won’t, but it is literally the lives of the people here that I have the ability to change, or not change. It is a weight I feel, for I don’t want to fail them. I have asked for a doctor for their health clinic, a teacher for the school in El Islote, medical supplies to be delivered to the clinic, and for new houses and wells for the people of El Cerrito and El Islote for the immediate future. These are easy needs to recognize as priorities. I am in the process of working with local organizations and understanding the needs better in El Menco to do some long-term planning for sustainable projects that will improve the quality of life here. These people often travel miles to meet with me and spend time in activities that reveal more about their reality. They give their time and energy, and I only hope that there will be enough strength behind our plans that they may see the results of their work, their dreams, and their hopes for a better future.
They say Christmas is sad here because the people can’t afford material things, but I see more people visiting with each other, passing their days telling stories. They are celebrating the religious aspect in church, and through family. I think of the craze in the United States, the expectations of toys by many children, demands made, demands met. I think how so many parents try to make up for any shortcomings as parents through the purchase of material items, as if voids can be filled with toys. And they can I believe- momentarily. They are quick cures for larger epidemics that plague our material culture. While Christmas may be sad here to some, I can say that it is relaxed. The cows are still brought home at night, the kids still play in the sandy streets, and rather than empty houses, the lights and candles burn through the night showing smiling faces enjoying companionship.
For all of you, I wish you a blessed holiday. I hope that you gather those that you love around you and celebrate the things that count- love, family, friends, health, and living true to yourself. Not only remember that there are other less fortunate people in the world, but that you are connected to them in so many ways, and that you have the ability to change things, even if but a little, for the better. Kai and I send you our love and prayers!
Sunday, December 9, 2007
Today was interesting. I awoke to Kai telling me that there was a dead dog outside the house. Dona Carmen, our next door neighbor, without looking said it was probably sleeping. An hour later, I walked around to that side of our house, and sure enough, there was the dog from across the street, dead as could be. I went and got Dona Carmen, and she immediately recognized the dog from across the street. The owners came over, looked at the dog, and got a rope. They tied the rope to the dogs hind feet, and three little girls drug it across the street and back to their house, without much fuss. They figured it was poisoned, as it was in good health compared to most dogs here. As it seems the dogs have some communication between themselves, I can only imagine what gossip must be going on in their language of who killed their comrade. I figured it wasn’t a great way to start the day.
Needless to say, our day went surprisingly well. We had a combined meeting with El Islote and El Cerrito, on the northern side of El Menco. Again, we had good participation from this group. The numbers for this meeting continue to stay strong. Today we began to look at the 8 Millennium Goals, learn more about them, and learn what are priorities for the community. We broke into groups, and each group picked a goal written on a piece of paper from a bag. They then had to act out their goal while the rest of the people guessed what it was. I was a bit concerned about this activity, wondering if they’d be able to do it, but they came through with some great skits, with props and all! Afterward we discussed more about the goals, and listed them in order of importance. 1 being the most important, 10 being the least important. Here’s what they concluded:
Millennium Goal Priorities for El Islote and El Cerrito
Develop a global partnership for development. (This was localized. They decided that without formulating a vision and a plan for development, they’ll never be able to address the other issues.)
Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.
Achieve universal primary education.
Promote gender equality and empower women.
Ensure environmental sustainability.
Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria, and other serious diseases.
Improve maternal health.
Reduce child mortality.
For numbers 6-8 the group concluded that they don’t really have problems with these goals in the community.
I also thought I’d tell you about an activity we did last week. Working sector by sector, we listed all of the assets that the community had- from trees for firewood to schools and churches. We came up with a large list of over 100 assets to the community. This is an interesting activity to do with people. When asked to list their problems, they can go on forever, but when starting with assets, it inspires thought and appreciation, as well as the basis for potential future projects. At first most lists began with 10 things, but as they thought more, many things surfaced. Here´s what the Millennium Village Committee listed as the top ten assets to the community:
People own property.
People know how to read and write
Feeding program for children
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
To all of you reading this blog, please let us know what you think! Remember that you can comment after each entry, and the comments are sent directly to my email. They aren't posted publically. So let us know what you think!
-Elizabeth and Kai
Monday, December 3, 2007
This week has been a long one, as I am trying to rethink ways of working successfully in El Menco. My work in three out of four sectors proves to be worthwhile, while the largest sector of Las Piedras still contributes little. Yesterday we had an interesting situation, and a difficult one that still isn’t resolved. We had a group of Rotary Club members visit in late afternoon, bringing gifts for the children of the people who benefited from the housing project. This was a great group of people who have been involved in this community for several years. They came from
It’s even more complicated than this. When Kai and I arrived, we brought a bag full of school supplies from our community in
Another interesting aspect is that only ½ of the community has benefited from the housing project, and I think we’ve finally figured out why. Felix and I were discussing this, and he informed me that when they started researching the demographics of El Menco, they worked with another organization, and hired someone from the community to go house to house and conduct a census. This local person simply conducted the census in the side of the community that has easy access and never traveled the 6km to the other more impoverished side. Therefore, ANF thought they had complete data, and were a little confused when I started working with the other side. El Menco, of course is all four sectors. Many people in Las Piedras seem to think that the only place of value is their sector. It has caused some justified tension in the community, as the people from El Islote and
Felix and I also had an interesting conversation about the difficulty of doing aid work with populations that are altogether ungrateful, and at times, downright selfish. This evening was a great example, where we see that people won’t attend meetings unless they are promised something. I see several things. For one, this section of our community has several generations of dysfunctional families. Families of parents who have abandoned their kids, who have been left to be taken care of by other family members. Families of children having children, as most women in our community become mothers between the ages of 13-16 years old. Many marry at that age as well, but parenting skills are almost non-existent. Social skills are poor, and in general, people don’t treat others with compassion.
Second, their lives were changed so dramatically with houses, wells, and latrines, all within the same year, that they haven’t really understood the implications. They’ve never received anything like this, and even though things have been explained, I feel that the idea of having to co-pay on their house, let alone on a sliding scale, is so new to them, they will need a lot of explaining.
Also, it is difficult to identify leaders in a community from a distance, such as is the case with ANF or any other organization working with similar aid projects. ANF has relied on several leaders identified by the community to tell people about meetings. What I have realized though, is that in Las Piedras, those leaders have certain alliances, and although they tell many people, they are not necessarily looking out for everyone. Organizing the community needs transparent, direct communication that serves everyone, such as postering the community in various popular spots.All in all, no doubt the work ANF does benefits hundreds of thousands of people, which is bringing people out of poverty every day. I think that they will find that if they invested in building an education team, that they would start seeing more sustainable results, and would have a closer understanding and connection with their beneficiaries. In general, I believe their projects would be more successful.
Community leaders came together, bringing their visions of their future that they drew. We connected them, section by section, to have one big drawing. We discussed what we liked, what was possible. It was interesting that they all drew what they already knew. It's very hard for them to imagine a future with such projects like women's cooperatives. We're currently trying to arrange a tour of sustainable projects that are successful for them to get some ideas of what they may want to be involved with.
Monday, November 26, 2007
At the end of the week, volunteers from each sector came together to form a committee for the Millennium Village Project. They met in the center of the community, coming by foot, by bike, horse and boat. All of the sectors presented their work during the week with each other, learning more about their collective history, and visions of the future. While this community has one name, it actually has four diverse and divided sections. One of our more immediate goals is to create more unity between sectors.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Saturday, November 17, 2007
As I lay in my hammock writing on my front porch, I can see Kai playing at the basketball court across the road in the last minutes of daylight. Today was one of the most productive days I’ve had since being here, and it feels good to be moving forward. Our meeting today was great, with leaders from all sections of the community coming together to learn about the Millennium Village. I had much support from ANF with the 3 out of 5 project staff present. There were teenagers to elders present all of which got involved through interactive activities and small group discussions about their priorities with the Millennium Goals. I now have one meeting in each of the sectors per week, totaling 4. A committee formed of leaders from all sectors that will continue to work on projects after I am gone. They will come together with me on Saturdays to share all of their work throughout the sectors during the week. The Saturday meeting is open to all, but there is a core committed group. The group is excited to work toward the Millennium Goals, and hopefully Nayda cleared up any misconceptions about the work that ANF does.
After the meeting the Executive Director from Partners of the Americas called, and arranged to meet with me and Alvaro, the Executive Director from ANF in two weeks. I have hopes to create a sister city relationship between El Menco and Ashland, WI. I believe that with the support of these organizations, we can provide transportation and communication between the two. That is my hope anyway. Then I’ll have to work more on the Ashland end. Knowing that there are organizations supporting the people here is important though. Perhaps in the future volunteers could work here. All is good news!
Also, I hear that Pamela, the little girl with the fever is ok. The fever broke overnight. It’s amazing what a little bit of the right medicine can do sometimes.
Today was very full. I rest in my house with thoughts about the reality here. Kai and I visited the poorest part of our community today, Le Islote, which is actually a very isolated community of its own. Unlike the other three sectors of the community, La Piedra, Santa Barbara, and El Cerrito, this community hasn’t benefited from the help of ANF. Le Islote is a peninsula that at times becomes an island, depending on the shifting sand. To get there we traveled through an inland estuary by wooden boat for about 45 minutes. The estuary is beautiful and full of wildlife. Once at Le Islote, we came ashore at one of the fisherman’s houses, Luis. Luis is considered a leader here, and was glad to show us around. There is no electricity, and houses are made out of plastic and reeds, or if you’re lucky scrap wood and metal. Families gather water to drink from the lake. There was no sign of cattle or pigs, only chickens to eat. The community itself consists of 14 houses, and around 75-78 people. Luis lives in a small metal house, wrapped with bits of newspaper to block the wind, which is the strongest this time of year. He said that he and 9 family members share the house, two of which were elders in their 80’s. FISE, a Nicaraguan project, installed latrines 1 month ago, which has improved conditions quite a bit. Luis asked if we’d like to see their school, so we followed him the length of the beach to a little wooden shack with a dirt floor. There was a metal roof full of holes and the only light came when the door was open. Their teacher left, leaving 32 kids with no education. They had little hope of finding someone else, as no one in their community has the education to teach, and it’s hard to entice someone to come and live under such conditions. If people get sick, they have to make it to my part of the community via boat, usually with just oars. There is no option for emergencies. They would have to take a 45 minute boat ride (assuming the boat has a motor), and then try to find a ride to Rivas, a city with a hospital about another 45 minute drive. Family structure here is very traditional, with the fathers being responsible for all income and decisions, and the women and kids at home doing all housework. Women are constantly busy washing and cleaning because after all, we are in the tropics. Sweeping and cleaning your house and clothes are a daily business, as mold grows fast, and all kinds of critters inhabit the house, from toads to chickens.
We invited Luis to attend a meeting of community leaders tomorrow, at the church across from my house. ANF Project Staff will be conducting the meeting and formally introducing the Millennium Village Project and its implications to this community. With a population of 500 or so, in 4 different sub-communities, all quite different, I’ve got my work cut out for me, and I’m glad for ANF support. I’ve had smaller meetings, explaining my project and gathering support, but the idea of a Millennium Village has to be introduced by ANF, so as the community feels like they have support beyond my time here. It has taken some time just to come to this understanding with ANF, but now with clarification from the United Nations, I feel that we’re finally able to present a clear idea, and leave it in the community’s hands as to whether they wish to strive to be a Millennium Village. My primary objective then, is to bring the voice of the community to ANF through activities and strategic planning. They will then have to take the next steps and gain more governmental support.
On our way back to La Piedra, our part of El Menco, we traveled out into Lake Nicaragua amongst 8-10 foot waves and went around 2 protected islands. Kai loved it, rocking amongst the waves and getting soaked!
We returned home, ate a late lunch, and walked to the soccer field. Upon realizing that the game was over, we stopped by the health center on the way home. My friend Christian, a nurse, greeted us, and said she wasn’t doing too well because as she was staying late painting the center, a family brought her a very, very sick girl. Pamela is 2 years old, and had a fever of about 105 degrees F. She was completely lethargic. Christian had some Acedimedifin in liquid drops, but it wasn’t any match for the fever. There were no cars heading out to the entrance, and not many busses running to Rivas. With not much hope, I invited the family to my house to immerse the girl in cold water, as I have a small basin that worked. The family lived pretty far from the health center, so they took me up on the offer. We immediately stripped the girl down and put her in a tub, while she whimpered, not completely conscious. I grabbed some liquid Ibuprofen that I brought for Kai, and we immediately gave a dose to Pamela. Three baths and 40 minutes later, we had the fever down to about 103. Pamela came around and ate a piece of watermelon and started talking a little. Another half hour and we had the fever at about 102. With no other option, we sent them home with instructions for medication. I hope she improves over night, but it’s hard to know. The family doesn’t have a thermometer, so they don’t know how high the fever really is. Christian is only 24 years old, and usually works with another nurse, who is on vacation. She nervously returned to Dona Carmen’s house, where she stays during the week. The family plans on taking Pamela to the hospital at 6am, when the first ride leaves the community. I hope it’s not something more serious like Malaria, and I pray her fever breaks in the night. It’s so hard to see young kids so sick.
This is the reality here, and certainly I appreciate my privilege. If Kai were that sick I could afford an ambulance or a taxi from here to the hospital. This community suffers greatly though, especially the kids, as there is virtually no children’s medicine in the health center, or elsewhere in Nicaragua.
Well, as the night closes in, I’m ready to retire. Tomorrow is our meeting, and I want to be refreshed. Pamela is in my prayers.